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We Are Brave
We are told that death is glorious. Honorable. Brave.
I think that we are just fooling ourselves.Higgins died today. This morning. So did Zander, although he died an hour after. Higgins, with a stray bullet to the head, and Zander when he walked over a landmine.
Neither of them were honorable or glorious in death. Brave, maybe. I can still see Higgins, with her smile frozen on her face. And Zander, who had gone to take a piss.
Bronze says that we say all that honor claptrap to keep ourselves sane. I suppose he could be right. After three months, sixteen days, and ten deaths, we are all a little jittery. I’m not sure if our backup crew can handle a real war, although that is what we have been preparing for. Our backup crew of what… twelve people, now? And I as their leading officer.
Everything and everyone is covered in dust in this tent. The radio equipment, the guns. My black skin, now a powdery tan color. I can’t even remember the last time I had a shower.
Bronze, my second in command, is sitting just outside the tent. He says he is from India, and moved to the USA with his family when he was five. I know the stories of most of the souls under my command. Esseck joined the Army to get scholarships for college. He plans to be the next Charles Darwin. Jip was born on a ranch in Montana with seven older brothers. Jackson, the only other female on the team, grew up in Oklahoma, and has this really thick accent.
I am the only black female on our small team, though. In the beginning I got some crap because of this. Especially from Bronze. But when I killed a rattlesnake that had been about to strike him, he shut up and became my number one confidant. My story is simple: I was adopted from Africa as a baby. My white parents both got AIDS and died when I was seven, and I spent the rest of my life in the foster care system, then joined the army on my eighteenth birthday, simply because I had no where else to go. Now here I am, with my band of misfits. I turn twenty one tomorrow.
Several flies buzz around in our camouflage tent, but every time Esseck kills one, I am sure ten more take it’s place. Jackson is sleeping like a baby on a cot, while another of our team, Bentley, guzzles water. The rest are outside, taking their shifts in patrolling and training. Although our special little corner of desert has been deserted all these months, the Higgins and Zander deaths were enough to scare us back into a routine. Our mission is numbly simple: when squad Hassit needs backup reinforcements, we will be here to move into position. The battle is happening only a few miles away.
The radio strapped to my belt crackles to life.
“Bumblebee, report, Bumblebee, over.”
“Affirmative, Bumblebee is here, over,” I say into the box. Over these last years, Bumblebee taken over as my name.
“Hassit has fallen. Repeat, Hassit has fallen. Squad Bumblebee is to report to Gyrfalcon immediately. Repeat, squad Bumblebee report to Gyrfalcon. You have the coordinates. Over.”
A thick, gummy silence follows these words. The radio fizzles out.
“Whoot!” Jackson says from the ground. She scrambles up, awaiting my orders with enthusiasm.
All I can think, is that Hassit has fallen. They are all dead.
I pinch myself. “You heard it,” I say, snapping myself and everyone to attention. “Let’s move out!”
Bronze moves out to inform the rest of the squad, while we collapse the tent and all of our supplies in under ten minutes, just like we have done a million times in practice. Sun bakes the back of my neck as I survey the map and GPS. We are nestled on the edge of a desert, with dry rocky mountains a stone’s throw away, a dirt track in front, and the desert to our right.
I open the coordinates that I saved on the GPS months ago, and drill the route into my brain. It is just a few miles away, in the deserted city.
My crew lines up when they have finished. Behind them, the ground is clear, save for the ten graves, two of which are freshly dug. I have imagined this moment over and over again in my mind. But now that it is here… These people are my friends. And almost three years of experience have taught me a few things. Even if the radio didn’t say so… well. Somehow I manage to choke out the words.
“If any of you want to turn back, now’s the moment. Hassit is down. This means that the enemy most likely has bigger numbers than us.”
I look at Bronze. He nods. “We’re with you, Bee.”
The rest of my squad nods, even Esseck, who had such big plans.
“Alright, then,” I say. Tears sting my eyes. “And… I just wanted you to know, that I would rather die among you all, the Bumblebee squad, than live on without --”
“Bee, s’okay,” Jackson says. She mock salutes me. “We can do this.”
“Okay,” I snivel. God, I need to pull it together. “You’re right. We’ll be fine. Move out!”
We start jogging, the guns and equipment bouncing on our backs. Waves of heat rise off the track in front of us, creating mirages. In one hand I carry the GPS device. After two miles, we head into the brush on the side of the road. According to my coordinates, Gyrfalcon is a small team that will watch our backs, located on high ground, in a gully overlooking the city.
Silently, we snake up the steep hill. After several minutes, all I have to lead me is the GPS device. The ground is rocky, grey, and all looks the same. Soon, Jip spots the tents, and I breath in relief. The first part of our mission has been successful.
There are several tents in the small gully. A telescope has been set up, peaking through some boulders down to the city. Someone could jump from where the telescope stands, and land on one of those flat roofs, still alive. That is how close the city is.
A young man meets us. He has a bloody lip, and is limping.
“They attacked,” he mutters, his eyes darting around. “Help me. They attacked.”
We stare at him dumbly for several seconds, then Esseck breaks out the medical kit.
“Drag this man over there,” I order Essecks, pointing behind a large boulder. “Get as much information as you can. You two, guard him. Bentley, Garse, Sting, Hadel, Winder, secure the perimeter. Bronze, Jip, Jackson, come with me. Move out.”
Bodies are everywhere. I recognize both our USA uniforms, and those of the enemy. I sling my gun off my back, and take the safety off, then quickly check the tents. Gyrfalcon, the man we were supposed to report to, is gone.
I hear a gun load. The noise came from the last tent, a large one in the center of the gully that Jackson was about to check. I silently signal to Jackson, and she raises her gun, about to fire.
“Wait!” That is Gyrfalcon’s voice. My heart thuds in my ears. “They are holding me hostage in here. Don’t fire!”
Jackson squeaks, her eyes wide. I reach out, open my mouth to speak, but I am too far away. There is a gunshot, and she drops like a stone.
Men burst from the main tent, guns firing. Jip is down. Bronze and I dive for cover, returning their fire. There are so many. At least thirty. Against our twelve. No, ten. No, now nine.
The next few minutes of my life are a blur. A man appears next to me, wielding a knife. I whack him with my gun. There is blood everywhere. I see one of my own, Bentley, toss aside the telescope and jump toward the houses. Bronze and I are hiding behind boulders. We make eye contact, nod silently, then burst out as one. Gyrfalcon is dead. We shoot and duck, fighting for our lives. The enemy numbers are falling. Then Esseck is there, coming up behind the men with a knife. He never stood a chance.
Bronze is trying to wrestle a knife out of a man’s hands. I am out of ammo. I use my knife instead, knocking the man on the head with the butt of the handle.
We collapse behind a large boulder as more gun fire rains in.
“Am I ever going to get a chance to repay you?” Bronze asks, sweat sparkling his brow. “I mean, how many times have you saved my life?”
Something thunks to the ground between us.
“Grenade!” I yell. Bronze and I run in opposite directions, but we are too slow. The grenade knocks me off my feet, and I am thrown into a boulder.
My vision swims. As my head clears, I am aware of cold metal pressing into my chin. My eyes focus on the barrel of a handgun.
The owner of the gun backs away, his hands shaking and gripping the handle of the gun like a lifeline. He is no more than thirteen.
I have no weapons. He fires once, but his hands were shaking so bad that I know it will take a long time for me to die.
Bronze is crawling towards me. Blood oozes from his head. The lone boy is fumbling with his box of ammo. He only has one shot left. I am too weak to fight. So much blood… It mixes with the dust on the ground. I won’t be able to prevent my own death.
I know Esseck would have given an expected time for me to live. Perhaps an hour? The boy seems to have reached the same conclusion about my life, and aims instead at Bronze.
Bronze is closer to me, now. We grasp hands. I try to speak, but my mouth is full of blood. I wanted to tell him so much. About how I am scared to die. How I will miss him.
“I am sorry,” the boy whispers. He pulls the trigger, just as I throw myself at the gun, protecting Bronze one last time.